Raisi Defends IRGC’s Role, Iranian Missile Program

Ebrahim Raisi speaks in Mashhad, Iran.

London- Ebrahim Raisi, who lost in the Iranian presidential elections, met Thursday with Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force Qasem Soleimani and chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ahmad Jannati in addition to the members of the National Security Council and Foreign Policy in the Iranian parliament in Mashhad.

Raisi implicitly slammed President Hassan Rouhani’s criticism for the IRGC, considering that any negative stance that aims at weakening the Revolutionary Guards opposes national interests.

Iranian media did not mention details about the meeting between the three Iranian officials after one month of Raisi’s defeat in the presidential elections.

After serving in a series of increasingly powerful judicial posts, Raisi was appointed in March 2016 by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to head the Imam Reza shrine.

Known as Astan Quds Razavi, it runs Iran’s holiest shrine as well as a huge business conglomerate with interests.

Before the elections, Raisi was one of the most prominent figures to replace the current leader in the mandate of the jurist and many believe that his entry into the race for presidency was to boost his presence in the Iranian political arena because of his short record of legal posts filled over the past 36 years.

For his part, Jannati also heads the Council of Guardians, which supervises the presidential elections. He lost the elections in May 2016 and received 16 million votes against 26 million for Rouhani.

The meeting comes at a time when Rohani is carrying out consultations to form a new government before Khamenei signs the ruling of the presidency and takes the constitutional oath in the parliament in less than two months.

Meanwhile, Raisi’s allies are carrying out consultations to declare a “shadow government” that would put pressure on Rouhani’s administration over the next four years.

On the other hand, Raisi defended, during his meeting with the parliamentary council, the ballistic missiles program and said that his country does not want the defensive structure and missiles for war, yet it wants them to prevent waging any war.

Iran’s strategy is defensive, and it looks forward to developing missiles with the aim of deterrence, Raisi said.

Iran: The Regime’s Nature and Its Calculations

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani gestures during a news conference in Tehran

It was interesting that the arrival of the US president Donald Trump in Riyadh in his first foreign visit since taking office should coincide with the election of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani for a second term.

Avoiding the temptation of ‘conspiracy theory’, I reckon it was very much in the interest of the Iranian regime that Rouhani easily defeated his opponent Ebrahim Raisi who is thought of as the future ‘supreme guide’, given the change of leadership in Washington. Such a result reflects a wise and tactful approach by the ‘movers and shakers’ in Tehran to internal as well as foreign policies.

Those ‘movers and shakers’ may be pretty extremist anti-Arab and anti-West, but it doesn’t follow that they are stupid. Actually, the opposite is true; as there are many smart and cultured individuals in the Iranian regime who are skillful political and tactical operators and understand the limits of adventures and open hostilities, thus, never hesitate to bend before the storm.

Now that Barack Obama has left office carrying with him his vision for the Middle East, a Republican administration is in charge. It is less convinced of Tehran’s leaders’ ‘moderation’, and more doubtful that their policies of sectarian incitement, military intervention, and direct hegemony adopted towards the Arab world are the best way to fight terrorism.

Hence, with the apparent end of the American-Iranian honeymoon, beginning with Syria, Tehran’s political ‘kitchen’ felt in need to balance out the two Iranian power blocs, although they are nothing but the two sides of one coin. With this in mind, the final six presidential candidates were approved, while others were disqualified including Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the former two-term president!

Of course, the ‘supreme guide’ remains the real ruler of Iran, regardless of the attempts of its state PR machine to promote a mirage of democracy. Indeed, the unrivalled position of the ‘supreme guide’ is a fact even the much trumpeted ‘reformists’ Rouhani and his vice president Mohsen Jahangiri by the Iranian people during the last four years of his presidency, he would never had the courage to raise the issues of corruption, unemployment, social problems, and claim to the champion of the poor, as he did during the televised debates. The fact is that Rouhani’s tough talk was directed at the de facto presidential candidates of the IRGC, which thanks to its institutions, interests, and money, network the real powerbase of Iran’s security system and its major strike force.

This actually means that the election campaign, just like ‘Iranian democracy’ itself, is flawed and self-contradictory; since the president does not rule … and the real ruler is neither the president nor a candidate to be chosen through elections.

Despite this fact one has to accept that Iran has gained in political savviness since 1979 with the emergence of ‘pragmatists’ like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, and later Hassan Rouhani, who have mastered the policy of taking a few steps forward and one step backward. And although ‘conservative’ hawks remain the real mainstay of the regime and the honest reflection of its true nature, those infrequently described as ‘reformists’ and ‘moderates’ are much closer to the pulse of people, millions of whom do not agree with the regime’s political priorities.

Here it is worth recalling how the ‘Revolution devoured its children’. Hundreds, indeed, thousands of the Iranian revolution were liquidated. Former foreign minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was executed after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Government and kill Ayatollah Khomeini; Abolhassan Banisadr, the first president after the 1979 revolution, had to flee the country after being impeached and is now living in exile in France. Even senior clerics, such as Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari and Grand Ayatollah Hussein Mutazeri, suffered for their opposition. And last but not least, both a former prime minister, Mir Hussein Mousavi, and a former parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi, have been placed under house arrest since the 2009 pro-democracy ‘Green Path of Hope Movement’.

The reality is that most Iranian voters do not remember – and do not care about – the old legacy of hate against the Pahlavi royal family, and the abuses of the old royalist SAVAK secret police; as around %70 of Iranians are under-30 years old. Thus, they are not hostages to memories but are rather dreamers for a better future, and deservedly so. They have every right to dream of steady jobs, better education, refining their oil more efficiently, and sure enough, live in peace with their compatriots and neighbors instead of demonizing and fighting them.

Moreover, it is ironic that against the logic of accountability in proper democracies, incumbent president Rouhani was re-elected by ‘protest votes’ against the real rulers. Most of the votes cast in Rouhani’s favor were not ‘his’ but ‘against’ his adversaries, i.e. the ‘supreme guide’ and the IRGC and their authority, even though he is a product of this authority.

What will happen next?

The first question must deal with Rouhani’s policies during his second term, and the second would be about the future of his challenger Raisi.

The new Middle East perhaps best portrayed by Trump’s pictures in Riyadh should send a clear message to Rouhani. It may be beneficial for him if follows Washington’s new approaches in the Arab ‘arenas’ that Tehran managed to penetrate during Obama’s presidency. So far one of Washington top goals is undoing the Russo-Iranian alliance with all its consequences in the Region.

As for Raisi, one wonders if his chances of becoming ‘supreme guide’ can survive his crushing defeat. For even in a lame democracy, like Iran’s, it may prove difficult for someone so strongly rejected by people, in what has been described as fair and clean election, to assume absolute power like that of the ‘supreme guide’!

Rouhani Calls for Army Neutrality Ahead of Presidential Elections

London- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the need for the Iranian Army to remain neutral during Friday’s parliamentary elections.

In his last electoral speech in the city of Mashhad on Wednesday, Rouhani who is running for the elections as a “reformist” candidate, said that the armed forces should not engage within any party or political group and “stay away from political games”, in line with the recommendations of Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei.

The president criticized the interference of the judiciary and media institutions in the electoral process.

He also strongly defended his government’s achievements with regards to the nuclear deal and the openness to the international community.

Rouhani and his ultra-conservative opponent Ebrahim Raisi held dueling rallies in northeastern Iran on Wednesday, the final day of campaigning before the presidential elections.

Addressing his supporters, Raisi said: “We follow the culture of ability and action.”

He added that, if elected president, he would seek to resolve the country’s economic and living problems.

Meanwhile, Rouhani’s government received a strong support on Tuesday when four French-Italian made ATR 72-600s planes landed in Tehran, within a deal which forms part of plans to rebuild the airline’s fleet.

Another sign of support to the current Iranian government was highlighted on Wednesday, when Reuters said that US President Donald Trump extended wide sanctions relief for Iran called for under the 2015 international nuclear deal.

During his presidential campaign, Trump criticized the nuclear agreement and went on to say that he would “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran”; however, Wednesday’s actions demonstrated that he has decided, at least for now, to keep it, according to Reuters.

“The United States continues to waive sanctions as required to continue implementing US sanctions-lifting commitments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” the State Department said in a statement published by Reuters, referring to the deal by its formal name.

Karoubi Supports Rouhani, Tehran Mayor Withdraws from Presidential Race

Iran

London – Iranian opposition figure Mehdi Karoubi announced on Monday his support for President Hassan Rouhani, who is running for a second presidential term in next Friday’s election.

Karoubi and another reformist leader Mirhossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard have been under house arrest since February 2011 after they protested against the results of the 2009 presidential elections in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected for a second term.

The website “Saham News,” which is close to Karoubi, reported on Monday that during a meeting with his family members on Sunday, the reformist opposition leader recommended supporting Rouhani during this week’s race, adding that “this election is a real confrontation between a real Islamic Republic and a ceremonial one.”

Meanwhile, in a heavyweight surprise, Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf withdrew on Monday from the presidential race in favor of former Prosecutor General Ebrahim Raisi, who welcomed his decision and considered the step as “revolutionary.”

The withdrawal of Qalibaf is expected to enhance the chances of the two conservative candidates, Raisi and Mostafa Mirsalim in confronting Rouhani, who is supported by the coalition of moderates and reformists.

According to the latest polls, Rouhani is shown in the lead in the run-up to the May 19 election.

Rouhani, in a speech on Monday, told supporters he needed a strong mandate to push for political freedoms and the release of opposition leaders.

Qalibaf and Raisi are supported by a coalition of conservatives called the “Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces.”
On Monday, Tasnim news agency quoted a source from the conservative coalition as saying that Qalibaf’s electoral campaign would continue to work in support of Raisi until the end of the elections.

Separately, head of Iran’s judicial system Sadeq Larijani criticized some presidential candidates for distorting the image of the regime’s legal apparatus during their presidential campaigns, saying that some candidates are acting as if they oppose the regime.

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf: Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Golden Child

Qalibaf

London – Twelve years after running as mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Qaliba will attempt for a third time to run for the presidency in Iran. He had in recent months however faced real estate corruption scandals, but that has not deterred him from registering in the elections.

Qalibaf is one of hundreds of thousands of Iranian teenagers, who were swallowed up by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ brainwashing machine in the early days of its formation. He is also one of the few residents from the town of Torqabeh who survived the Iraqi-Iranian war to later find himself occupying one of the highest military positions in the body tasked with protecting the trinity of the supreme leader, regime and revolution.

Qalibaf was born to a middle class family in August 1961 in Torqabeh near Mashhad, the second largest Iranian city. Qalibaf means carpet weaver in Persian. When he was 17, Ayatollah al-Khomeini formed the Wilayat al-Faqih regime after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards was created in 1980 at the beginning of the Iraqi-Iranian war. Qalibaf soon joined the ranks of the fighters in the southwestern fronts of the country.

Two years after joining the Guards, he became the commander of the “Imam Reza” brigade of fighters hailing from Khorasan before commanding, at the age of 22, the “Khorasan Victory” legion, one of the most prominent Guard legions during the war.

At the end of the war, he assumed the command of the “Khatem al-Anbiya” group, the economic branch of the Guards, before becoming commander of Guard air force between 1997 and 2000. Qalibaf was among the commander who received military training in North Korea in 1995. He also holds a doctorate in geopolitics from the conservative Tarbiat Modares University.

‘Pincers’ General

Days after the eruption of student protests in July 1999, the most prominent commanders of the Revolutionary Guards issued a strongly worded letter to then president Mohammed Khatami, threatening to intervene to quell the rallies if the government did not. The letter held greater significance in that it threatened to stage a military coup against the “reformist” government. This marked the most blatant form of Iranian Revolutionary Guards meddling in government affairs since its establishment.

In a recording that was later leaked by Iranian media, Qalibaf was heard as saying that he left his office, baton in hand, and headed to the streets to confront the students. He acknowledged that he and Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Guards’ Quds Force, wrote the message to Khatami. “When there is a need to go down to the streets, we strike with a baton. We will be among those striking with the baton,” Qalibaf said at the time.

After the student protests, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei selected Qalibaf to head the Iranian police force. In his new position, he modernized the force by arming it with the latest equipment, but this period also saw a spike in restrictions imposed on activists, artists and intellectuals.

During the 2013 presidential debates, Qalibaf attempted to strike a blow to then candidate Hassan Rouhani by speaking about the need to adopt political openness, accusing him of preventing the issuing of permits to hold political activities when he served as secretary general of the national security council. Rouhani retaliated with a greater blow by saying: “It is true that we should be competing, but not in this way. I did not want to say this, but you are forcing me to. You once said: ‘Allow the students to draw near. We have the pincer plan attack.’ We said that we will not issue permits so that you will not be able to use them to carry out mass arrests.”

The label of “pincer” has followed Qalibaf wherever he goes.

His military background has benefitted his rivals in all three of the presidential races he entered. His competitors have always referred to his security and military record and his lack of clear political rhetoric. His portrayal as a candidate who makes orders in a military fashion has harmed his chances in winning the votes of those seeking more political and social freedoms in Iran.

First Electoral Failure

In 2005, Qalibaf left the police force and his military background behind to officially enter the political arena by running for president. The experience was however a complete failure as he came in fourth behind former Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Akbar Hashemi and reformist Mehdi Karroubi.

Three months after his defeat, the capital’s municipal council, which is dominated by conservatives, voted for him as Tehran mayor to succeed Ahmadinejad.

Second Presidential Run

In 2013, Qalibaf again attempted to run for president, under the slogan of “Life – People – Change.” This time around, he advanced to the second round, but he lost by a wide margin to eventual winner Hassan Rouhani.

During the 12 years he served as Tehran mayor, he sought to raise income through selling land around the capital and turning the agricultural property into commercial ones. He is therefore facing accusations that his measures targeted the poor in Tehran and its suburbs.

Third Presidential Run

In this year’s elections, Qalibaf toned down his usual rhetoric, which he had been adopting for the past eight years, and instead rehashed those of Ahmadinejad by focusing on issues that concern the middle and lower classes, specifically their livelihoods. The media has meanwhile portrayed him as a modest man, who prefers the simple life, as opposed to the image of the charismatic man, who wears expensive suits. This is the same image that Soleimani seeks to project to Iranians. During the second presidential debate that took place on May 5, Qalibaf defended Ahmadinejad’s government performance, saying that it addressed the poor classes more than Rouhani’s administration. Ahmadinejad did not shy away from voicing his displeasure with Qalibaf’s approach, accusing him of usurping his electoral platform.

Qalibaf’s electoral run pits him against another conservative, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the former general prosecutor. The two candidates were unveiled by the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces, which is comprised of a group of conservative parties seeking to avoid a repeat of the 2013 presidential elections defeat. The Front had announced that one of the candidates will withdraw from the race in favor of the one who has a better chance of winning. In this case, Raisi is seen as the victor against Qalibaf after he received the backing of three of the most important religious groups in Iran, while no conservative party has announced its support for Qalibaf.

Qalibaf should not however be underestimated. He has the ability to carry out electoral campaigns throughout Iran and owns several media outlets that will promote his electoral platform.

He has however been faced with real estate corruption scandals and accused of shortcomings in handling a fire that broke out in a Tehran mall that saw the deaths of 15 fire fighters and 10 citizens.

Should he be elected president, Qalibaf has vowed to create four million job opportunities, but his rivals have portrayed him as a “general”, who is seeking to curb freedoms, eliminate women from the workforce and reinstate the security policies of Ahmadinejad.

The candidate enjoys the support of the most prominent and influential Revolutionary Guards members and he has good ties with Soleimani. Raisi also enjoys similar support among the Guards. Observers see this as a factor that may force Qalibaf to withdraw from the race in favor of the better candidate. It was said that the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces had promised Qalibaf that he could be appointed vice president if he is not elected president.

We can say that the aspirations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ “Khorasan golden child” have stumbled in face of the aspirations of Ebrahim Raisi, the judiciary’s “Khorasan golden child.” Raisi is eying becoming Iran’s next supreme leader, a position occupied by another Khorasan native, Ali Khamenei. Fate could play in Qalibaf’s favor where Raisi could don Khamenei’s cape and he would replace him in the presidential seat.

Corruption Scandals Dominate Final Iranian Presidential Debate

Rouhani

London – A week before the presidential elections in Iran, the six candidates faced off in a final televised debate that was dominated by issues of economy and accusations of corruption.

Outgoing President Hassan Touhani and his Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri exchanged accusations with hardline former General Prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi and conservative Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf.

The debate witnessed heated arguments between Rouhani and Qalibaf over last summer’s real estate scandals and the astronomical salaries of senior state officials.

Hinting that Rouhani’s brother, Hussein Fere, may be involved in corruption, Raisi said: “There is no difference in combating corruption, whether from under my turban or Rouhani’s or from under the jackets of Jahangiri or Qalibaf.”

Turning to Rouhani, he declared that the general prosecution and the top aide of the judicial council head had informed him that they possess documents that prove that some people in his closest circle are involved in corruption.

For his part, Rouhani retaliated by accusing Raisi of issuing sentences against clerics, referring to the former general prosecutor’s role in a special trial of clergymen.

In addition, he said that Qalibaf had been charged in the past for rejecting an investigation with him that was looking into violations committed before the 2005 presidential elections.

Returning to the corruption scandals, Qalibaf said that Rouhani and Jahangiri received “highly subsidized” properties from the government.

Qalibaf, a veteran member of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, also said Rouhani administration had facilitated large loans to “particular individuals” through state-run banks while average citizens still struggle to secure small loans.

He added that Rouhani’s administration had given “extraordinary payments” to senior officials.

If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote on May 19, a second round run-off would be held a week later. Qalibaf has made a run-off more likely by resisting calls from other hardliners to step aside.

May 1 Protests Slam Rouhani for Failure to Deliver on Economic Promises

Rouhani

London – Iran’s Hassan Rouhani chose Ruhollah Khomeini’s shrine as a platform for his May 1 Labor Day rally. Unexpectedly, the president seeking reelection was met with an angry crowd repeating slogans slamming his policy.

The laborers demanded an improvement of their living conditions and the repeal of a highly contentious labor bill from parliament.

Rouhani’s campaign management gathered over 30,000 Tehran workers on Labor Day. According to Iranian news agencies, Rouhani’s speech promising improving the lives of workers was booed and hissed at, as complaints rose that his administration overlooked the demands of the working class.

“Those who ignore labor force problems do not understand the reality of the situation,” Rouhani said, while stressing that Iran is facing two choices for settling internal crises.

The first is a passive one made of “slogans and promises” and the other is an active plan pivoted on “perceiving the status quo and working on projects that improve living conditions.”

On one hand, pro-Rouhani Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) described those opposing the president at his rallies as “saboteurs.”

On the other hand, Revolutionary Guard conservative mouthpiece “Fars” said that workers’ contempt was a reflection of deteriorating living conditions and the performance of Rouhani’s government.

Religious leader Naser Makarem Shirazi protested the content and moderating job done on nationwide televised debates between presidential candidates. He called on rivals to refrain from telling lies in their attempt to sway the public opinion.

Earlier, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made comments that appeared to favor hardline candidates in the May 19 presidential elections. He played down the benefits of “moderate” Rouhani’s agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in return for a lifting of international sanctions.

Khamenei and his hardline supporters also criticized the nuclear deal – which stifled talk by Washington of possible military action against Iran – for failing to deliver promised economic benefits.

One of Rouhani’s main challengers, Ebrahim Raisi, an influential cleric with decades of experience in the hardline judiciary, said Iran had no need of foreign help to improve the economy and could always defend itself.

Iranian Academics Call on Khamenei to Implement Radical Changes

London – More than 100 university professors in Iran called on their country’s Supreme Leader to implement radical changes on various levels, including government-led institutions, to overcome living problems and achieve economic progress.

Professors, who work at 40 different universities, addressed an open letter on Wednesday to Ayatollah Khamenei, asking for extensive reforms and the implementation of national strategies to boost the Iranian economy.

The professors underlined the importance of the role of government institutions, including the ministry of foreign affairs, the judiciary, as well as security and economic bodies in executing development strategies.

They also expressed their readiness to meet with Khamenei to present their vision on the changes needed.

On a different note, the electoral campaign office of Iran’s main conservative candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, denied any role in the presence of former Prosecutor General Saed Mortazavi during Raisi’s electoral tour in an Iranian city on Tuesday.

Mortazavi, whose role in torturing demonstrators has been condemned by human rights groups for years, was sentenced last year to 135 lashes on corruption charges.

The photo of Mortazavi joining Raisi’s electoral tour has sparked wide controversy on social media networks, which forced Raisi’s office to issue a statement denying any close relationship with the former prosecutor general, who was a friend of ex-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Meanwhile, Iranian Vice President and presidential candidate Eshaq Jahangiri said nobody wanted Iran to go back to war and the era of threats and sanctions.

In an interview on Wednesday with a local radio station, Jahangiri defended the performance of President Hassan Rouhani’s government over the past four years, underlining the need to preserve security in the Persian state.

The vice-president was one of the six presidential candidates to address the Iranians via a radio program that covers electoral campaigns.

Last week, Iran’s Guardian Council announced a list of six approved presidential candidates, including incumbent president Rouhani, Jahangiri and Raisi, in addition to Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Mostafa Mir-Salim and Mostafa Hashemitaba.

Iran’s Presidential Charade: Another Slap Coming?

FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani gestures as he registers to run for a second four-year term in the May election, in Tehran, Iran

In old Hollywood, the word “chestnut” denoted a formula which though lacking originality could still provide the kernel for a moderately successful B-movie.

Anyone following the latest presidential election campaign in the Islamic Republic in Iran is bound to notice stark similarities between this Islamicized chestnut and those of old Hollywood.

Every four years, Iranians and others interested in Iranian affairs are invited to participate in or at least observe what is presented as a dramatic quest for power by rival factions defending sharply different programs. Thus a few weeks of excitement are created out of thin air to give the impression that the peculiar system created by the late Ayatollah Khomeini is an Islamic version of the cursed democracy promoted by the “Infidel”. The show is also used to blame all that is wrong in the country on the president in charge for the past four years and, almost always, end up re-electing him for four more years.

The “chestnut” script provides for the presence in the election of at least three candidates representing “the bad”, “the worse” and “the worst”.

This is important for confusing not only Iranians but also foreign powers interested in or bothered by Iran.

In 1997, quite a few Iranians fell for the fiction that Muhammad Khatami, a mid-ranking mullah, represented “the bad” option against Ali-Akbar Nateq Nuri, another mid-ranking mullah, who was cast as representative of “the worst”. Khatami won and Iran ended up with eight years of a presidency that witnessed the chain-killing of intellectuals, mass arrests of regime critics, strict censorship, increased support for terrorist groups and, finally, the massive expansion of Iran’s clandestine nuclear project.

In the 2005 presidential campaign, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, branded “the worst” candidate, emerged victorious. Paradoxically, in some important cases, he turned out not to be as bad as Khatami. He overlooked corruption that was spread like wildfire, but toned down the crackdown organized against critics and dissidents. His clownish performance amused some and revolted many more but it did not translate into a substantial increase in the Islamist regime’s repressive measures.

Four years ago, US President Barack Obama bent backward to help Hassan Rouhani, then believed to represent “the bad” for fear that Saeed Jalili, identified as “the worst”, might become Iran’s president. Rouhani’s four-year stint has been even worse than that of Khatami’s first term. Iran is now the world’s number one in executions, number two in political prisoners and on top of the list of states sponsoring international terrorism.

To add more spice to the mix, the regime and its lobbyists in the West also urge support for the candidate supposed to be farther from the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. That was supposedly the case with Khatami, Ahmadinejad and Rouhani.

This year, the candidate supposed to represent “the worst” while being closest to Khamenei is Ibrahim Rais al-Sadat, alias Raisi, a mid-ranking mullah who was recently appointed as head of the Imam Reza Foundation in Mash’had, perhaps the most lucrative post in the Islamic Republic.

Barring a last minute surprise, Rouhani will remain in the race as “the bad” candidate, wearing his trademark smile and waving the cardboard key that symbolizes his promise to “open all doors”.

Not surprisingly the old chestnut themes are back.

Tehran lobbyists in the West are going around demanding support for Rouhani who is supposed to be determined to do in the next four years what he couldn’t or didn’t want to do in the last.
One US-based apologist, Abdul-Karim Sorush, alias “The Martin Luther of Islam”, invites Iranians to choose “the bad”, which he dubs “Aslah” (the most qualified), meaning Rouhani.

Others have identified Raisi as the candidate closest to Khamenei and thus deserving a thrashing from an angry electorate. The list of candidates this time may also include the same old Jalili, “the worst” of four years ago who, presumably will be only “the worse” this time.

However, the fact is that in 1997 Nateq-Nuri was not Khamenei’s favored candidate just as in 2005 “The Supreme Guide” did not particularly favored Ahmadinejad. The only time that Khamenei has indicated a personal opinion about any presidential candidate was when, in 2005, he made it clear he did not want his old friend and new foe Hashemi Rafsanjani to regain the presidency.

For Khamenei, the presidential election is nothing but a four-year endorsement of the Khomeinist system, a kind of referendum on the regime’s legitimacy rather than a choice of an individual president. In the current election, too, I doubt that Khamenei is particularly keen on seeing Raisi become president. True, Raisi is an old protégé of Khamenei, hailing from his native Mash’had and holding the same narrow view of things as the “Supreme Guide”. However, Khamenei won’t mind if Rouhani wins again or if any of the other candidates whom he has pre-approved end up victorious.

Though a protégé of the late Rafsanjani, Rouhani has a 30-year record of service to the security services controlled by Khamenei. He is also close to powerful elements in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard who provide the backbone of domestic support for the regime.

The only factor that might have concerned Khamenei as far as Rouhani is concerned would have been the latter’s tentative attempts at easing tension with the United States. However, with President Barack Obama no longer around to do the pas-de-deux, Rouhani, has quickly switched to Khamenei’s “looking East” strategy of alliance with Russia. In fact, Rouhani launched his presidential campaign with a flash visit to Moscow and a photo-op with Vladimir Putin.

Four years ago Rouhani, like Khatami before him, promised reform. Now, however, it is once again clear that the Islamic Republic cannot be reformed. In his time, Ahmadinejad promised to end corruption, discrimination, and poverty, exactly as Raisi did today. Eight years later, Iran ended with more poverty, discrimination, and corruption.

The problem is not about who plays the role of president in a charade of pseudo-democracy. The problem is about an atrophied system in which all paths to reform, development and progress are rundown.

Thus the question Iranians face is not about which of the various puppets is “aslah”. The real issue is whether they wish this broken system to continue. If they have no interest in taking part in this charade. Four years ago, the presidential election scored the lowest rate of voter participation and Rouhani won with the smallest margin in Islamic Republic’s history.

In its limited way, the last election was a slap in the face for the Khomeinists. Will we see another such slap this time, too?